A commonly asked question, and the simple answer is NEVER...
Birds have a natural instinct, and know to take natural food over our garden feeders if it's readily available. During any time of the year many birds can struggle to find natural food, they understandably rely on our garden feeders to sustain them through the difficult times.
In the later summer and autumn, there is plenty of natural food available. However, this does not mean that you should stop feeding your birds. By providing food during these warmer months, you will encourage young fledged birds to stay in and around the general area of your garden. Your birds will then return to your garden as a base during the colder winter months.
A quick guide to the many different types of bird food...
Sunflower Hearts **Recommended Choice**
The best you can give your birds. Containing about 50% fat and 25% protein, these seeds are great all year round. Sunflower Hearts produce very little waste as there's no husk to remove, even ground feeding birds like Robins and Chaffinches will clean up under the feeders.
Black Sunflower Seeds
Black Sunflowers are Sunflower Hearts with the husk still on, so the birds need to de-husk the seeds to get to the kernels inside. They are a very popular seed with many of your garden birds, especially Greenfinches.
Rather a vague term, as mixed seed comes in many different qualities. The cheaper mixes are based on Black Sunflowers, with wheat and other nutrionally low seeds thrown in to bulk up the mix. You may think it's a bargain, but small birds such as Blue Tits can be fussy eaters and may reject up to 50% of the seeds. Larger birds may clear up the mess underneath your feeders though, so you may find a mixed seed selection to be the most economical buy. Premium mixed seeds are a compromise between basic mixed seeds and the high quality Sunflower Hearts. These 'High Energy, No Mess' blends are very popular with your garden birds. Other types of mixed seeds include Ground Food and Robin Food.
Niger/ Nyjer/ Thistle Seed
Can be known by any of the three names, but they're all the same thing. Niger seeds are the favourite food of Goldfinches, Siskins and Redpolls. Specific Niger seed feeders are available from Feathers.
A natural choice for birds. You can buy Mealworms live or freeze dried and your ground feeders will be impressed to see these out. Mix these with some ground food, currants, wholemeal or brown bread etc and you have a great chance of attracting many ground feeding birds to your garden.
With a high fat and protein content, Peanuts are especially good during the colder months. A good attractant for Nuthatches, Great and (very occasionally) Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Peanuts encourage more than just your average garden birds. Always use a mesh peanut feeder, especially during the breeding season, as juvenile birds can struggle if fed whole peanuts.
Fat Balls/ Suet Cakes
Both great to put out during the year but especially in the winter. The high fat content in both provide the birds with enough energy to make it through the night. Long-tailed Tits visiting your garden love to feed on the Fat Balls, but always use a fat ball holder as the nets can cause problems.
Many birds opt for natural food when available. Fieldfares and Redwings, for example, are fans of berries and insects. In the winter, you might be lucky enough to see a few visiting your gardens eating the berry-bearing plants (e.g. Holly). Green Woodpeckers feed on the Ants from your garden, drilling it's beak into your lawn creating plenty of lovely holes for you to fill in later!
Many species of birds visit our garden feeders throughout the year...
Most of them do have a preference for certain food. However, circumstances and options are always a major factor when dealing with our garden birds. Different seasons bring different birds with different needs. Our guide lists some of the more common garden visitors, the foods they will readily take and where they prefer to feed.
|Sunflower Hearts||Mixed Seeds||Niger Seed||Peanuts||Suet||Feeding Method*|
|Blackbird||✔||✔|| || ||✔|
|Blue Tit||✔||✔|| ||✔||✔|
|Chaffinch||✔||✔|| || || |
|Coal Tit||✔||✔|| ||✔||✔|
|Collared Dove||✔||✔|| || || |
|Dunnock||✔||✔|| || || |
|Goldfinch||✔|| ||✔|| || |
|Great Spotted Woodpecker||✔|| || ||✔||✔|
|Great Tit||✔||✔|| ||✔||✔|
|Greenfinch||✔||✔|| ||✔|| |
|House Sparrow||✔||✔|| ||✔||✔|
|Long-tailed Tit||✔|| || ||✔||✔|
|Marsh Tit||✔||✔|| ||✔||✔|
|Nuthatch||✔||✔|| ||✔|| |
|Siskin||✔|| ||✔||✔|| |
|Starling|| || || ||✔||✔|
|Wood Pigeon||✔||✔|| || || |
*Feeding Method Key:
Most feeders allow you to take them completely apart for cleaning...
With some you may need to remove a couple of small nuts and bolts. Others, the Jacobi Jayne Ring Pull for example, will come apart after simply removing the central metal pin. This leaves the whole feeder in parts, so you can easily clean each part separately. All you need is hot, soapy water (or specialist feeder disinfectant). Remember to rinse the feeder well and let it dry thoroughly before reassembling your feeder. Once a month is normally enough, but always keep an eye on your feeders, as the weather can dictate how regularly they need a clean.
Feeders can gather moulds and other unwanted microscopic organisms...
So keeping them clean is one of the best preventative measures you can take to maintain the health of your birds. If your feeder looks dirty, clean it, as keeping your feeders clean really is an essential part of feeding your birds.
There are two important factors to have in mind when siting your nest box...
1. They should not be facing the full afternoon sun and 2. Ideally facing away from the prevailing wind. Rule of thumb dictates that you should face it anywhere between North and East, however, if erected in a sheltered spot (e.g. under a tree) the direction is not critical. Open-Fronted Nest Boxes should be anywhere between ground level and 2m up, whereas standard boxes should be anywhere between 1.5m and 5m.
If your nest box has been used and after you have ensured it is no longer occupied...
(October/November is a safe time) you simply need to clean the box by removing the nest material and ensuring the inside is clean and dry. In fact, most nest boxes are now easy opening and can be cleaned without the need to remove it from its location! If your garden birds decided not to use any particular box after two seasons, try re-locating to another site in the garden.
Open-Fronted nest boxes are used by Robins, Wrens and, if you're lucky Spotted Flycatchers...
Blackbirds require a slightly larger Box. If you place the box nearer the ground (anything below 1.5m, although Spotted Flycatchers prefer it slightly higher) and tuck it in good cover this will increases the chances of it being occupied. Tits and Sparrows like to nest in a standard nest box with an appropriate size hole. In general a Blue Tit will go in any holed box down to 25mm, a Great Tit down to 28mm, and a House Sparrow down to 32mm. There are many other specialist nest boxes available, designed to attract anything from a Swallow to a Barn Owl. Please ask if you would like to know more.